XENIA – Sandra Saunders recalled looking around the communion hall inside Middle Run Baptist Church.
“When I was a kid, we had the church here,” she said as she sat on the stage where the christening pool stood decades ago. “And Sunday school (was held) in the basement.”
Saunders, who was baptized inside the church aged eight, marveled at all the history inside the venerable building on East Church Street. There are documents and newspaper clippings dating back to 1900, minutes of church meetings from 1899, and the bell – over 100 years old – which was proudly rung by church leaders.
“We have a great heritage,” Saunders said.
That pedigree will be front and center this weekend as the church celebrates its 200th anniversary.
The festivities will begin at 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 1 at the AHOP Church, 282 Stelton Road. Central State University President Dr. Jack Thomas will be the keynote speaker. The celebration continues at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, October 2 at Middle Run, 1000 East Church St. The Reverend Warren Shaw, Pastor Emeritus of Mt. Tabor Baptist Church in Dayton, will be the preacher.
The public is invited and among the expected guests are descendants of Godfrey Brown, the founder and architect of the church. Brown was born to slave parents in 1768. The family came from a wealthy family of farmers and tobacco planters in Brunswick County, Virginia.
After Godfrey’s parents died, slave master John T. Bowdoin offered Brown the opportunity to purchase his and his family’s freedom for a certain amount. Brown and his family worked, prayed, dreamed, and saved, and by the spring of 1820 they had accumulated the $5,650 needed to buy their release. Brown and his wife, Chaney, and only their four oldest children were emancipated. They left the Virginia Plantation as free persons. The other eight children were guaranteed freedom at the age of 21.
After Brown and his family reached Ohio, he purchased 254 acres of land from Edward and Sarah Dromogoole for $1,000. The land was located in Caesar Creek Township and soon became known as “Brown Settlement”.
In the fall of 1822, after the houses were built for his family, Brown and his sons chose a section of land between two branches of a creek to lay the foundation for a church where they could better serve and worship God and raise their family. Due to the church’s unique location between two streams, the church was named Middle Run Baptist Church.
Brown’s eldest son, Samuel Sr., was also called to preach. Both father and son went to every “new” settlement, whether white or black, preaching the gospel and became well known.
Middle Run is one of the oldest Black Baptist churches in Ohio and the United States and played an active role in the Underground Railroad. The church also served as a shelter from the 1974 tornado and a staging area where clothing, etc., was distributed after the tornado.
“We have a rich, storied history,” Saunders said.
The church in 1889 moved to Xenia, where most of the members had resettled. It was rebuilt in 1895 and 10 years later the first choir was organized and the first organ was purchased. The annex, which houses the current sanctuary, was built in 1991. On Sunday, July 15, 2001, the family of founder Godfrey Brown dedicated a magnificent monument to the church on the west side of the building. Additionally, on September 4, 2005, on behalf of Brown’s descendants, Catherine Burch presented the church with a “human yoke” to add to the records.
Middle Run has had myriad spiritual leaders, at least 40. The names of many are unknown. Saunders’ father, Orville, spent more than half a decade as a deacon. The current leader is Deacon Karl Kennedy, who has been at Middle Run for over 30 years.
“I consider it a blessing,” he said. “I was not from here. I just consider myself blessed. I’m just in awe.
Kennedy said church members have taken a hit as the congregation ages, but they’ve managed to keep the doors open.
“It’s a walk of faith,” he says. “They said you couldn’t do it. We are always here. We serve God. God is good.”
Saunders, who is the church clerk and secretary, said survival is based on faith.
“Our faith has enabled us to overcome many challenges,” she said.
Kennedy added, “We turn the page and see what’s next.”
But memories of the first 200 years are alive and well inside the church.
Photo submitted Middle Run Batist Church will celebrate its 200th anniversary this weekend.
Scott Halasz | Greene County News The family of Middle Run Baptist Church founder Godfrey Brown dedicated this monument, located on the west side of the building,
Scott Halasz | Greene County News Inside the church are tons of archives, including newspaper clippings and meeting minutes.
Scott Halasz | Greene County News Cornerstone says it all.
Scott Halasz | Greene County News This is the cornerstone of the original building in Xenia.
Scott Halasz | Greene County News This bell, over 100 years old, was used to call members to church.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.